54.5 F
Tuesday, April 16, 2024

‘It’s Not a Petting Zoo,’ says Alleged Petting Zoo Proprietor


In the background of civil and criminal proceedings against Sloth Encounters Long Island and its proprietor, animal rights groups Humane Long Island has purchased the domain LarryWallach.com, which posits itself as a “public resource” for potential customers.

The website, named after the beleaguered proprietor, is the latest in a long line of efforts by Humane Long Island to raise awareness against the business, which Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter stated was operating “illegally” in August 2022.

In the latest court proceedings and filings, Wallach’s attorney has argued that the establishment is not a petting zoo, but a pet store. Being zoned as a mercantile (“M”) occupancy, the establishment is permitted to operate as a pet store, specializing in the sale of exotic animals, so the argument goes. These exotic animals include snakes, lizards, birds, turtles, frogs, sloths, kangaroos, and capybaras. To answer the Town of Islip’s complaints that it is operating in violation of a town code provision that prohibits the “keeping, harboring or possession of wild animals in any place within the Town,” Wallach’s attorney contends that sloths are not wild animals.

As the town attorney argued in his filings, “sloths are wild animals,” and Town Animal Code § 12-22 defines ‘wild animal’ as “An animal of any species which in its natural habitat is wild, dangerous or ferocious, including any such animal which may have been trained and domesticated.”

The Messenger, having previously visited the property in 2022, was offered a tour and detailed explanation of the business, in which customers paid $50 per hour to feed, pet and play with sloths. So, while the business model may have changed, the new model still has not satisfied the requirements of the Islip Town Code.

Partially in reaction to this instance, the Suffolk County Legislature and the New York State Legislature each have bills targeting the exhibition and ownership of wild animals, which stand to effectively outlaw Wallach’s business. The New York State bill S.6211, introduced by Senator Monica Martinez, expands the definition of wild and exotic animals. The bill further prohibits exotic animals from being harbored, traded, imported, sold or owned as pets in the same way as wild animals.

“Wild and exotic animals require specific conditions and environments to survive. The habitats in which these animals live in the wild are far from conditions that exist in New York. Any business operating with the intent of profiting by selling these exotic animals should be held accountable under the law for the unethical treatment of animals,” stated Senator Martinez

The bill clearly defines a wild animal as an indigenous, non-domesticated animal native to the country in which they live and an exotic animal as a wild animal with an origin of a different continent. The bill further lists all families and orders that would be protected, some of which include sloths, kangaroos, hyenas, elephants, wallabies and armadillos. This bill would not apply to zoological facilities, wildlife sanctuaries and other exclusions under current law.

The Suffolk County equivalent of the bill, IR 1777-2022, introduced by Legislators Trish Bergin, Jason Richberg, Bridgett Fleming, Stephanie Bontempi and Leslie Kennedy, seeks to ban animal traveling performances or shows that use wild or exotic animals even if they are domesticated. Various educational and zoological entities are exempted.

Much of these provisions seem to address instances from the Winter when Sloth Encounters was advertising at-home visits of their sloths.

“We provide a 30min educational class to determine if you are the right fit for owning a loving Sloth,” reads a portion of the Sloth Encounters webpage’s “About” section (https://www.slothencounters.com/about-us).

“There is no commitment necessary to buying a Sloth after your experience is over. This is purely an experience that will give you insight to see if owning a Sloth is right for you. If you do happen to purchase a Sloth. Your admission fee will be put towards your purchase!”

Brian R. Monahan
Brian R. Monahan
News Editor for The Messenger Papers.